HARRISON, N.J.- Junior midfielder Jack Bennett lifted the St. John’s men’s soccer team past Connecticut 1-0 when he scored his fifth game-winning goal of the season in front of a crowd of 2,178 at Red Bull Arena on Sunday afternoon. The two teams battled through 96 minutes of scoreless play before Bennett scored 6:14 into the first overtime to give the Red Storm their conference-record ninth BIG EAST Championship title.
Bennett, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player, was on a breakaway, going one-on-one with the goalkeeper and fired the gamewinner from 8-yards out, finding the net inside the right post. St. John’s (14-6-2) earns the league’s automatic bid to the 48-team NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship. The title match was the only game of the BIG EAST Championship to extend into an extra frame.
UConn is ranked No. 4/3 nationally, while St. John’s is ranked No. 21/21 (NSCAA/Soccer America).
Bennett has scored five game-winning goals and given out five game-winning assists; he has been involved in the game-winning goal 10 times in 14 wins for St. John's.
Both teams finished with 13 shots each, while Connecticut (17-3-2) held a 4-1 edge in corner kicks.
With 26 minutes remaining in the first half, Connecticut had back-to-back chances to get on the board. Senior midfielder Tony Cascio found the feet of sophomore forward Mamadou Doudou Diouf, but his shot was blocked by a St. John’s defender. Diouf tried again seconds later, alone in front of the net against the goalkeeper, but he fired high and it sailed over the goal.
Eleven minutes into the second half, redshirt-sophomore midfielder Adrian L’Esperance had a chance to put St. John’s ahead, but his shot missed, driving outside the left post.
The two teams went into the half tied 0-0. Connecticut outshot St. John’s in the first 44 minutes, 10-5 and held a 1-0 advantage in corner kicks. UConn goalkeeper Andre Blake made one save, while Alex Naples also made one save between the posts for the Red Storm.
Redshirt-sophomore midfielder Nick Matthews tried to break the scoreless tie in the 77th minute, firing a shot, but it sailed wide.
The Huskies earned the No. 3 seed in the Blue Division. Connecticut defeated DePaul at home 4-0 in the first round and Rutgers 3-1 on the road to reach the semifinals. Connecticut defeated Louisville 1-0 to advance to the final.
“I’m just very proud of the guys,” said St. John’s head coach Dave Masur. “We really prepared for UConn- they are always a tough opponent and very well-coached. Championship games have a way of bringing surprises and we had to hang in there. We feel fantastic that we were able to end up on top.”
St. John’s, Red Division No. 3 seed, defeated Georgetown 2-1 and West Virginia 2-0 to advance to the semifinals, where the Red Storm recorded a 2-0 shutout against Villanova.
Bennett was joined on the all-tournament team by Villanova’s Kyle Soroka and Louisville’s Nick DeLeon, along with teammates Walter Hines, Alex Naples, Ido Ligety and Most Outstanding Defensive Player Connor Lade. From Connecticut, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Mamadou Doudou Diouf, Stephane Diop and Carlos Alvarez were selected to the all-tournament team.
The Huskies and Red Storm met once during the regular season, with UConn posting a 2-0 victory at home on Sept. 24. The two teams have met in the BIG EAST title game once, with St. John’s recording a 1-0 win in 2001.
“Congratulations to St. John’s,” said Connecticut head coach Ray Reid. “Dave and his team did a great job of giving us problems. They are a resilient bunch. We played 22 games and won 17 of them. There was a bad mistake at the end that they took advantage of, but unfortunately, we learn better from this than a win.”
The NCAA Selection Show, scheduled for Monday, Nov. 14 at 4:30 p.m on NCAA.com, will announce the tournament bracket. The NCAA first round is scheduled to begin on Thursday, Nov. 17 with the second round slated for Sunday, Nov. 20.